PARIS, IL. (ECWd) -
With changes occurring in the Paris and Edgar County areas in relation to media and informing the public, I wish to take some time and attempt to explain to our readers the differing roles in media and reiterate what we see our role as. This is not an article with a purpose of running down any particular media, but rather my opinion on the state of local media as it is today.
In the course of reporting on local events such as news, it is prudent to also try and balance what you report to who your readers are. Readership changes over time and media must adapt to that change of readership.
Media that operate for-profit are in the unique position in that they can hire staff to cover all types of local events and local news, sometime filling space with regional and national news from organizations that report those levels. The downside has been the risk of losing advertising revenue should for-profit media report on events that are not so flattering to local government, businesses and families. News and current events must be accurately reported in order to keep citizens informed and engaged. In my opinion, if reporting on local government actions cannot be accurately reported, leave that job to someone who will.
Investigative / Watchdog reporting is a type of reporting that includes massive amounts of research and skill that the majority of local media cannot fund, or do not desire to become involved in. It has its risks that include funding research that may not develop into a story, alienating certain advertisers who would rather this type of reporting not be conducted and certain legal risks should the reporting be false or without factual back-up data. It takes weeks, months, and sometime years to research and develop a story that will adequately inform the public of whatever subject is being reported. Our organization has researched some of our articles for more than eighteen months before putting it out for others to read.
For Investigative and Watchdog reporting to accomplish anything, it must make use of open records laws like we have here in Illinois. We believe it should be strengthened to allow more access, but those who would rather keep secrets believe open records laws are a burden. Investigating and reporting, using public records, are essential to an informed citizenry. How reporters are treated through this process will most likely correlate to how much corruption is involved in whatever public body we are researching. Let's just say people get angry when they are hiding things that you want to look at.
There is an additional type of reporting and this is what would best describe what we do, which I do not believe has been "labeled" yet, and that is “Watchdog Activism” and reporting; the process of combining Investigative/Watchdog reporting techniques, and some Activism techniques to achieve some type of measurable result. In our case generally, the “light at the end of the tunnel” for us has been adherence to the law. Adherence to the law takes many forms, all of which if left unchecked make up the definition of corruption. We research and investigate problems, research and investigate the law, attend public meetings and inform public officials through a variety of means that changes need to be made, and finally try to facilitate those changes through reporting and if necessary publicly embarrassing those that are not following the law. Party affiliation has no bearing on what gets looked at nor how it is reported.
Borrowing from a previous article where I quoted Dr. Livingston Smith, when he said during an international conference on the media’s role in exposing public corruption: “[The media role is in] fostering a climate of public opinion which regards the corrupt, however rich and powerful they may be, with the contempt they deserve.” It is not us, the citizen, or even the citizen journalist, that need be ashamed; but rather it is our duty to shine the light of Truth as bright and as long as humanly possible, and shout out the names as loud as possible, of those that refuse to take responsibility for, and of the individuals that perform and permit these acts that undermine the public trust.
What we define as corruption is found in the dictionary and is simply the abuse of power, illegal or immoral actions, dishonest or fraudulent conduct – usually by a group of people. I know that for some “corruption” is an offensive word, but to us it is necessary to state things without “sugar-coating” anything. Citizens have the right to be informed and we aim to provide that. Citizens have a right to open and honest government and we aim to facilitate that.
There are those that claim we hate government and our mission is to destroy it. That is completely wrong; we strive to change it for the better. If that means some destruction, by way of embarrassment, lawsuits, or public comments, occur in that process, so be it. Please read Andy Shaw's article from the Better Government Association (click here) entitled "We Never Beg - We Sue" for more information on why it is so important to sue in court for access to public records. There are currently nine active FOIA suits where either Kirk or I are listed as Plaintiffs; 6 with Arcola Township, 2 with Edgar County, and 1 with Illinois Health and Family Services. Failure to provide public records when requested is a violation of law and no one should have to beg for them.
We have assisted public officials, private citizens, and even attorneys when it comes to public bodies following the law, or not following the law. Our research and work has been published in at least 31 different media organizations from local, regional, national, and international publications.
The bottom line is always the same, unless private citizens get involved and attend meetings, even if is to simply sit and watch, our public officials will not know that they are being watched and that they must follow the law even if it is not the popular thing to do. Apathy towards local government produces the results that gives us things to write about.
Finally, all media has its role, some to provide news, be it daily, weekly, or monthly, and some to keep the public informed about the inner workings of their government - good or bad.